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Duncan Jones and Alex de Campi complete the 'Mooniverse' with sci-fi graphic novel, MADI
The final chapter of director Duncan Jones' "Mooniverse," as seen in his cerebral sci-fi films Moon and Mute, is eschewing the traditional theatrical route and rising over the horizon as a new sci-fi graphic novel co-written by Eisner-nominated author Alex de Campi (Smoke, No Mercy).
Adapted from an unproduced screenplay Jones wrote following his mind-warping 2011 film, Source Code, MADI: Once Upon A Time In The Future will be released in a premium hardback edition following a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. It will be published this fall by Z2 Comics.
Jones, the British-born son of David Bowie and Angie Bowie, imagined MADI as a road-trip story and as a semi-sequel to his cerebral movies Moon and Mute. The trilogy shares the same near-future territory and thematic material, but MADI also stands as a thrilling solo adventure.
The writing duo of Jones and de Campi is complemented by an accomplished stable of international illustrators including Glenn Fabry, Ed Ocaña, Simon Bisley, James Stokoe, Chris Weston, Pia Guerra, Christian Ward, and Duncan Fegredo, all of whom have delivered indelible imagery to all their projects here in America and on the British comics scene.
MADI's crowdfunding campaign has already blasted past its initial funding goals with a whopping $260,000 tally, so far, and there are several stretch rewards currently in the works. The Kickstarter runs through June 18 and the graphic novel is scheduled to be released in November of 2020.
SYFY WIRE chatted with Jones and de Campi about MADI's globe-trotting, ex-commando heroine Madi Preston, and learned what jolting sci-fi surprises fans can expect when the book arrives this fall.
What got you out of the director's chair and into the comics domain for this project?
Jones: Well, I wrote a film script many years ago, just after I'd come off the back of Source Code, which was quite successful. I was thinking now that I've had two well-considered, financially successful movies in a row, I'm going to go out and make this big crazy ambitious science fiction movie. It ended up being more difficult to make than I expected and exceedingly expensive, so I decided to put it on hold. We didn't end up doing it, but I absolutely loved the story and felt it was something worthy of being made in one way or another.
Cut to many years later, I ran a little poll on Twitter, and asked for people's submissions on who they thought would be the most interesting comic artists to work with if I ever got an opportunity to. I reached out to the four top runners in that poll and commissioned them to do one page from that story as an experiment to learn about what making comics was like, the kind of questions and feedback they'd be expecting, and how much it costs. I love that process and felt very excited about it. It made me feel like maybe this would be the way to tell this story. I reached out to people I knew in the comics world and asked them who I could work with. I need a guru. I need a comics sherpa to guide me up this mountain. And they put me in touch with Alex.
De Campi: It was more of a jump than an easing in. There was very much a feeling out of whether this was a person I could work with. 'Can I trust this stranger from the internet to help create this book from a story he's very emotionally attached to and had a lot of opinions about?' It was always Duncan's story. Most of my career is creator-owned work by choice. Which is kind of rare in comics. I've had so many great experiences over the years. Twisted Romance was very much me trying to write specifically to different artists' styles and was one of the projects I sent Duncan to show him what I could do.
Creating a beautiful thing is an egotistical reward in itself. It doesn't have to be "your thing," it can be "our thing." And it was the challenge of bringing this to life fairly quickly and dividing it up between different artists. Give me a story puzzle that involves creating an interesting and easy structure for the ready, that's also quite innovative, and I'm the happiest person in the world. I can go on and on about what a great collaborator Duncan is and how much fun it's been.
Can you take us on a speed run of Madi's plot and how it relates to Moon and Mute?
Jones: The story follows the adventures of this group called J-Squad, veterans who used to be in a special forces unit in the United Kingdom. They were known as drone troops, essentially soldiers who've had cybernetic enhancements put into them that allow them to be controlled by someone back at base. When they left the military they still had this technology in them but it's very expensive to maintain.
So they've had to end up working for the private sector. The problem is, the more missions they go on to try and keep things up to date, the more deaths they incur because of the injuries they're receiving. Madi, one of the members of this group, decides this is a no-win situation and they'll stay in indentured servitude forever. So she's going to do this off-the-books mission to pay off her debt and get free of it but it obviously doesn't go the way she planned.
De Campi: I can't summarize it any better than Duncan did, really. [Laughs.]
Jones: These three stories, Moon, Mute, and Madi, are more of an anthology than anything. Thematically, what connects them, other than the shared universe they inhabit, is the idea of parenthood, which is something I'm in the middle of right now, and having responsibility for others. In all three of those stories, it's about the challenges of being responsible for someone in an unexpected way. That goes for Sam Bell in Moon, who suddenly finds himself with this older version of himself, and for Leo in Mute, who finds himself halfway through that story with someone he's responsible for. And then Madi, she's going to discover herself responsible for someone she wasn't expecting in that story as well.
De Campi: These were all people who were barely able to be responsible for themselves in a way. And you don't need to have seen Moon or Mute to enjoy the book. You can have no knowledge of them at all. You should see Moon and Mute because they're good.
Why take this endeavor to the masses as a Kickstarter campaign?
De Campi: I'd done two Kickstarter campaigns beforehand and both of us are engaged with our broad fanbase on Twitter around the world. I was keen on floating the idea of a Kickstarter because I thought it would be really fun to do and get some attention on the book. I wasn't sure Duncan or our publishers would receive it well. It's really tough right now with the pandemic and comic stores are only just reopening now. Getting eyes on any sort of book is very difficult in this market. The Kickstarter audience is a very supportive audience for graphic novels.
More people are likely to encounter something they enjoy on Kickstarter than they would walking into a comic shop, especially now. And they can act as a sort of pre-marketing for the book store release. It was a way of increasing the profile of the book and maybe we'll pay our print bill up front, wouldn't that be great. And it went a lot further than that!
Jones: Just to mention how wildly successful Alex's idea was, I think we're at over $170,000 dollars right now and we were looking for $50,000. So it's been a huge success that's paid off.
MADI features the talents of several accomplished British artists. How did you get into the U.K. comics scene?
Jones: I always wanted to ask Alex at some point how she has such a familiarity with the U.K. comics scene. For me, working with all these amazing 2000 AD artists is a huge deal. I guess you could say it's the equivalent of Heavy Metal and Marvel having a baby. [Laughs.] It's the British gold standard for comics.
De Campi: I lived in London for 10 years and broke into comics on the U.K. scene, so I'd go to the monthly comics pro drink club that was in a little basement pub at the Phoenix Theater in SoHo. If you wanted to have a quiet chat that was a good place, and it was cheap and dark. So I spent much of my twenties drinking with Chris Weston and a lot of these people on the scene.
One day 2000 AD called me up and asked if I wanted to write Judge Dredd for them. And that's the equivalent of DC calling you and asking if you want to do Batman. It's a marquis British comic book character and they're not likely to just hand off to a random writer. Judge Dredd, I'd argue, is harder to write than Batman. The fascism and violence are not actually celebrated in Judge Dredd, it's always this undercurrent and satire to it. Whereas the fascist elements in Batman and American comics are overtly celebrated and considered something to strive for.
How did you adjust to the medium of comics after working in screenwriting and films?
Jones: I wasn't a complete comics virgin. I had a bit of a dry run at it with Glenn Fabry and making a graphic novel for Mute. Although that never panned out and we ended up making the movie before we finished the comic. But I knew there were things I didn't know well enough. That's why Alex coming to the rescue was such a huge deal for me.
It was really educating me on some of the nuances on how they should be formatted, and also the kind of decisions you leave up to the artist where you have to push back a little. It is similar and dissimilar to storyboarding. There's a pickiness in storyboarding because you need to know how one shot leads into the other. Whereas there's a different artistic interpretation in comics where it's a flow of storytelling, but it doesn't move in the same way a camera does. The individual panels have to do work the storyboards don't.
What do you hope readers take away most from this deluxe edition of Madi?
De Campi: The book is oversized, and even the cutdown softcover is bigger than a normal trade paperback. And we got these amazing artists from a broad variety of styles and backgrounds in comics. That was one of the things I was so excited about. I wanted people to have this wonderful escapist experience, especially in these times, with this giant, beautiful book with a really gripping story and discover some new artists they might really dig.
Jones: When I was a kid, my dad had this pretty phenomenal library, and I'd always go picking around through it and find all these things I probably shouldn't be looking at, but couldn't help but be fascinated by.
One of the things I remember finding The Trigan Empire graphic novels. They were these beautiful, thick graphic novels which was kind of a retelling of the Romulus and Remus story but done in a science fiction setting. It absolutely blew my mind and the art was gorgeous. It was definitely one of those moments where I totally bought into the worldbuilding, in the same way I would have been by Star Wars at roughly the same time.
And Zippy the Pinhead, which was a very different approach to putting ideas into a graphic novel. [Laughs.] Both of those were formative for me. I realized anything was possible in that medium. What I'd love is that people read Madi and it would expand their expectations of what can be in a book.